I have been struggling with the villain in my thriller. My protagonist has reams of back story. I know her family history and personality intimately. I used the tips from the last character post to write her many layers.
But the antagonist, the evil one – well, he is just the evil one so far. That’s not good enough because although I am writing a thriller, I want to have a great character lineup as well. As much as Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ taught me a lot, the evil character Mal’akh was pretty one-dimensional, so here are some ideas for fleshing out basic characters that just don’t seem real.
- Examine the reasons why behind their driving force. Fuel Your Writing has a good list of what motivates a villain here. Mine wants power but the question is why does he want that. What has got him to the point of acting as he does? IS he evil for the sake of being evil – unlikely. There must be reasons behind the actions, and it’s your job to figure them out.
- Give the villain some balance. There is the old cliche that even Nazi concentration camp killers loved their children. There are a few truly evil people in the world, but most bad people have humanising elements. Maybe they like classical music, which is a sign of culture, art appreciation and education. Maybe they care for their dog, or their Mum while on a murdering spree. This balance is where I am struggling at the moment. I don’t want to have the abused childhood as a reason for violence, although it is based on truth in the real world.
- The villain doesn’t have to want to destroy the world. As the antagonist, he can just cause mayhem and pain to the protagonist stopping her from getting what she wants. But hey, I’m writing an action thriller so I’ve got to think big! I’m taking J.C. Hutchins John Alpha from 7th Son as a good example for my own novel. He is one evil, clever, destructive villain!
- Check out how other villains are written. Here’s a list of Top 50 villains in literature. Satan makes no. 1 but I don’t think he counts as a character to humanise! Remember, you can use ideas to spark new ideas so go read up on villainous deeds and characters and then come back to the page.
- Don’t be scared of writing evil stuff. Horror writers often get accused of having horrid, dark minds where violence lurks and evil dwells. But perhaps they have happy, clean minds because all the darkness gets written on the page. We all have dark dreams and taboo thoughts. We just need the courage to put them on the page. People will judge you and your novel regardless so embrace the judgement and put those dark words down.
- Get some help. I am currently reading Larry Brooks ‘The Three Dimensions of Character‘ Ebook. It goes into the various dimensions of a character and encourages you to go deeper than just surface affectations and personality. You should also be investigating back story, a character’s world-view, their goals and motivations, inner conflicts and the character arc: how the character changes and learns as part of the story. There is also a great checklist of questions you can answer for your character.
Do you have any tips for writing convincing, strong character villains?
Image: Flickr CC Arunjrk